Four Referee Mistakes That Sank Real Madrid's Champions League Dreams
Tuesday night's second leg of the Champions League Semifinals saw Barcelona defeat arch-rivals Real Madrid on an aggregate scoreline of 3-1. The two Spanish giants drew 1-1 at the Camp Nou, however La Blaugrana held a vital 2-0 lead heading into the match.
The draw marked the end of an unprecedented four El Clasicos in an 18-day period. Los Merengues and La Blaugrana battled in La Liga, the Copa del Rey Final, as well as the two-legged Champions League Semifinals.
La Blaugrana progressed through to the final at Wembley, with hopes of securing another Champions League trophy.
Although Barcelona emerged victorious in this well-fought semifinal clash, both legs were marred by controversy and conspiracy claims.
Los Merengues left Barcelona feeling disappointed and once again frustrated by the referees. At the Santiago Bernabeu, as well as the Camp Nou, Madrid found themselves on the wrong side of some controversial and decisive decisions.
First, it must be said that Barcelona is the most attractive side in world football. La Blaugrana have excelled under Pep Guardiola, developing their passing football into magical attacking play.
The star-studded side have used their possession-based approach to both entertain millions and win trophies.
With some of the greatest players on planet Earth, Barcelona have emerged as one of the greatest teams of this generation. Their beautiful style of play has earned respect around the world.
While La Blaugrana have reached the pinnacle of world football, their past two years in the Champions League have featured great controversy.
The denial of Chelsea penalty claims in their Treble winning 2009 season, as well as Thiago Motta's red card in last year's semifinals, are key decisions that have gone in favor of Barcelona.
The questionable calls take nothing away from La Blaugrana's fantastic football, however it has been a recurrent theme in recent European campaigns.
Real Madrid's exit from the Champions League has once again created a cloud of controversy around referees.
This slideshow organizes the referee decisions that ended Madrid's Champions League dreams from least to most significance. While the semifinal encounter between the Spanish giants is the main focus of controversy, one decision occurred in this year's Round of 16.
It was always going to be a struggle for Madrid to defeat one of the greatest teams in recent history over two legs, but with big calls going against them, it seemed a Herculean task.
Without the controversial calls, there is no guarantee that Los Blancos would have progressed to the final at Wembley. However these decisions ensured that it would be an uphill battle, one that Mourinho, Ronaldo, and Co. dubbed "Mission Impossible."
Di Maria's Phantom Foul on Carles Puyol
Although it may have gone unnoticed by the majority of viewers, Angel Di Maria's phantom foul on Carles Puyol was a significant moment in Tuesday night's encounter.
In the first half, following David Villa's curling shot that forced a tremendous leaping stop from goalkeeper Iker Casillas, Di Maria was at the heart of a rare penetrating Madrid move.
The Argentine winger was able to maneuver past Barcelona's talismanic captain, which looked promising for Los Blancos as they threatened in the final third.
However, the attacking move was stopped before it was truly able to develop, as the referee whistled Di Maria for a foul. In real time, it looked a questionable call due to the minimal contact between the two players.
Replays have shown that the decision to award Barcelona a free-kick was a mistake. The ball was played behind Puyol, and the defender used his body to shield the ball from the onrushing Di Maria.
Puyol lost his footing as he tried to brush the Madrid winger off the ball, which the referee called for a foul.
While Madrid were not guaranteed a goal had play continued, the foul prevented Los Blancos from exploiting the Barcelona defense and getting in on goal.
Higuain had pulled out into a dangerous position on the right giving Di Maria options in attack. The two Argentine players looked destined to carve out an excellent goal-scoring chance for Madrid, but the move was stalled due to the referee's decision.
There was no suspicion of diving on the part of Puyol, who should be applauded for his work ethic and style of play, as the referee simply made a mistake.
Nonetheless, one of Madrid's best chances to claw back into the tie was was stopped by the referee.
Cristiano Ronaldo Called for Foul on Javier Mascherano
The focus of yesterday's post-match comments surrounded around the referee's decision to call a foul on Cristiano Ronaldo, which disallowed what would have been the opening goal of Tuesday night's match.
In the opening moments of the second half, Madrid's Portuguese superstar penetrated the Barcelona defense with one of his trademark runs.
Ronaldo was running at the backline with pace, and played the ball to Higuain before getting blocked by Gerard Pique.
Higuain continued his run, and dispatched a clinical finish to beat goalkeeper Victor Valdes. The Argentine striker thought he had opened the scoring for Los Blancos, keeping Madrid's hopes of reaching Wembley alive.
However, the striker's well-taken goal was disallowed.
The referee awarded a free-kick to Barcelona for a Ronaldo foul on Javier Mascherano. This controversial decision, and Madrid players' comments regarding the foul, has made headlines across Europe.
Madrid players had strong support for voicing their displeasure with the referee. Ronaldo played the ball to Higuain and was clearly fouled by Pique. By the laws of the game, advantage should have been given to Los Blancos as Higuain was in on goal.
Pique fouled Ronaldo by blocking his run, sending the Madrid Number 7 to the ground. As he went to ground, Ronaldo then made contact with Mascherano. This contact, caused by Pique's foul, was instrumental towards the disallowed goal.
Mascherano would have closed down the space, and either tackled Higuain or forced a more difficult shot. However, Ronaldo made contact with the Argentina captain, catching him on the ankle.
Mascherano did not dive, as replays show that Ronaldo's back made clear contact with his ankle.
Although Mascherano did not dive, his theatrics were influential. By exaggerating, rolling around, grabbing his ankle in pain, the referee was always going to award the free-kick.
While it is a part of today's game, football needs to bring an end to the excessive simulation and antics. Soon after, Mascherano was back to full fitness, running around although nothing had happened.
While the Barcelona hardman's theatrics bore the brunt of the post-match criticism, both sets of supporters must understand that it was the referee's mistake that cost Madrid their much-needed opening goal.
The referee should have played advantage and ignored the accidental contact between Ronaldo and Mascherano that was caused by Pique's initial foul.
The referee's mistake was a pivotal moment in the match. Had the referee let play continue, Higuain's goal would have given Real Madrid a lifeline in this uphill battle at the Camp Nou.
Arsenal Striker Robin Van Persie Sent off at Camp Nou
Arsenal and Barcelona's Round of 16 encounter in this year's Champions League saw the London-based side get eliminated in one of the great controversies of this season.
In the first leg at the Emirates, Arsenal overcame an early David Villa strike with goals from striker Robin Van Persie and playmaker Andrei Arshavin. With a 2-1 lead, the Gunners visited the Camp Nou in a highly-anticipated second leg.
Barcelona dominated in the return leg, as they displayed their superior passing ability. A goal by the majestic Lionel Messi would have put La Blaugrana through to the quarterfinals on away goals.
However, an unfortunate own goal by Sergio Busquets tipped the scale in Arsenal's favor. The own goal put Arsenal ahead with an aggregate scoreline of 3-2, with a vital away goal.
Barcelona knew they would have to score another to force extra time and score a third goal to win the tie.
Following Busquets' own goal, Arsenal looked to be enjoying a decent run of play. Johan Djourou looked in excellent form, as his combination of size and pace caused problems for the smaller Barcelona attackers.
Although Arsenal looked destined to dethrone the great Barcelona, the referee intervened with one of the biggest mistakes of the season.
Van Persie was played in behind the Barcelona defense, but was flagged for offside. The striker mistimed his run and was offside by a slight margin.
Having thought he timed the run to perfection, Van Persie controlled the ball and blistered a low shot that missed wide right.
The referee believed the Arsenal striker was wasting time, and brandished a second yellow card. The subsequent red card saw the Gunners go down to 10 men. Van Persie and other Arsenal players quickly surrounded the referee pleading innocence.
The Arsenal striker tried to explain that in one of the world's loudest stadiums, he could not hear the referee's whistle. The decision was extremely harsh, as there was a minimal gap between the whistle and Van Persie's shot.
In Van Persie's defense, had he wanted to waste time, it would have made much more sense to launch the ball into the stands. When teams typically try to waste time, they try to send the ball as long and far as possible. The Dutchman, on the other hand, shot low and hard.
The referee's decision to send off Van Persie for a questionable offense of time wasting completely changed the match. Down to ten men, Arsenal were always going to struggle. Barcelona is the last team in the world a team wants to play when down a man.
Barcelona took full advantage of the referee's mistake, and scored two goals in lightning succession. Xavi and Messi sealed Barcelona's progression to the quarterfinals.
When looking back on Barcelona's road to the Champions League Semifinals, they were on the verge of being eliminated by Arsenal in the Round of 16.
The referee's controversial decision was the turning point in that tie, and La Blaugrana will count themselves very fortunate to have progressed.
Pepe Red Card for Challenge on Dani Alves
Although Tuesday night was the second and decisive leg of Real Madrid and Barcelona's Champions League Semifinal clash, the Catalan club were already booking their flights for Wembley after the first leg at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The first leg, and third El Clasico during an 18-day period, featured one of the great controversies in this historic rivalry.
On the back of their Copa del Rey win, Real Madrid and manager Jose Mourinho set out with a strong emphasis on defense. The Portuguese manager had a detailed plan to defeat Barcelona over the two legs, which started by keeping a 0-0 draw at home.
While Barcelona dominated Los Blancos in the first half, they were unable to create any golden opportunities for the likes of Villa, Pedro, and Messi.
Madrid dropped back deep in defense, and were forced to absorb constant pressure from La Blaugrana.
Pepe was again deployed as a defensive midfielder, a role in which he flourished at La Mestalla for the Copa del Rey Final. Along with Xabi Alonso and Lass Diarra, the three provided a shield in front of the Madrid rearguard.
Barcelona undoubtedly outplayed Madrid, as the home side failed to threaten in attack. While La Blaugrana looked most likely to score, Mourinho's men were still disciplined and composed in defense.
After a half-time substitution, Madrid seemed to come out of their defensive shell as Mourinho entered the second-phase of his plan.
However, before he could bring on Kaka to play as a trequartista in his third and final phase, controversy struck the Spanish capital.
In the 61st minute, the referee changed the entire dynamic of the match with one mistake.
As Barcelona right-back Dani Alves went to clear the ball, Pepe launched himself in an effort to apply pressure and make a challenge. The aerial challenge left Alves writhing in pain, as though he were seriously injured.
Reacting to the challenge and the Brazilian's exaggerated reaction, referee Wolfgang Stark issued a straight red card for Pepe. The sending off not only reduced Madrid to ten men, but also ruled the Portuguese enforcer out of the crucial second leg.
Mourinho and his players were shocked at the referee's decision.
Pepe pleaded with the referee that he did not even make contact with Alves. Madrid's protests were useless as Pepe was given his marching orders.
Initial replays showed that the Madrid player barely made contact with the Barcelona defender. Pepe and the coaching staff would have settled for a yellow card due to the high boot, but the red card was completely unwarranted.
The referee's controversial decision put Madrid in an impossible position. Just like Arsenal in the Round of 16, Los Blancos were down to 10 men against the greatest attacking side in world football.
Just like Arsenal, the referee made a crucial mistake that changed the complexion of the game. Just like Arsenal, Barcelona went on to exploit the opposition, scoring two vital goals.
Extensive replays have revealed that Pepe did not make any contact with Alves, and if so it was minimal at best. The full-back pulled back his leg before Pepe's challenge, but the Brazilian fell to the ground immediately clutching his leg.
His theatrics were criticized around the world, but analysts and players alike. The Brazilian needed to be stretchered off, only to return to action moments later without any signs of injury.
The referee's decision to give Pepe a straight red card was clearly a mistake. Whether there was the slightest brush of contact or not, the challenge did not warrant a sending off.
Real Madrid were always going to struggle after the red card, as Barcelona went in for the kill. La Blaugrana took advantage of the opportunity, and through two Messi goals, booked their tickets to Wembley.
Pepe's red card will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in this rivalry's recent history. Madrid fought hard at the Camp Nou in the return leg. However, the controversial sending off proved too much for Los Blancos to overcome.
The world deserved to see the two Spanish giants compete on an even playing field. Unfortunately, the referee had a significant and decisive impact on the tie, which gave Barcelona the all-important numerical advantage. La Blaugrana played excellent football and capitalized on their advantage.
However, Madridistas will only fantasize about what would have been, had Pepe not been wrongly sent off. Next year will feature more memorable Clasicos. Hopefully, referees will allow the two clubs and their football to dictate the outcome next season.